The growing adoption of artificial intelligence (AI) raises questions about what comparative advantage, if any, human beings will have over machines in the future. This essay explores what it means to be human and how those unique characteristics relate to the digital age. Humor and ethics both rely upon higher-level cognition that accounts for unstructured and unrelated data. That capability is also vital to decision-making processes—such as jurisprudence and voting systems. Since machine learning algorithms lack the ability to understand context or nuance, reliance on them could lead to undesired results for society. By way of example, two case studies are used to illustrate the legal and moral considerations regarding the software algorithms used by driverless cars and lethal autonomous weapons systems. Social values must be encoded or introduced into training data sets if AI applications are to be expected to produce results similar to a “human in the loop.” There is a choice to be made, then, about whether we impose limitations on these new technologies in favor of maintaining human control, or whether we seek to replicate ethical reasoning and lateral thinking in the systems we create. The answer will have profound effects not only on how we interact with AI but also on how we interact with one another and perceive ourselves.
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